The term “breaking in” or “forced entry” originates from the Hebrew word khathar which means “to dig.” Today a thief breaks through a door or window for a “forced entry.” In the ancient world walls could be dug through to force entry into a residence.
According to the law the Lord established for Israel the property owner has the right to self-protection and to defend his property. If a thief is using the cover of darkness to conceal himself, the homeowner has no alternative but to strike to kill since the cover of darkness not only conceals the thief, but also conceals a potential weapon and the intention for the intrusion.
This law includes a prohibition of unnecessary violence. If a homeowner hears an intruder in their home in the darkness, they may have to strike to kill. But, in daylight a homeowner has the ability to determine if the thief is merely there to steal possessions, or is also welding a weapon which threatens the life of the members of the household. If the thief has no weapon to cause bodily harm, then merely restraining the thief would be adequate. It would be considered unnecessary violence for a homeowner to go above and beyond the law and slay an unarmed man. In that case the homeowner has committed murder. Physically wounding the thief would be within the rights of the homeowner, but the homeowner does not have the right to slay a man while he is stealing a lawn mower from his garage.
Responsibility of the thief for his actions is focused on restitution of lost property, not merely some form of punishment such as jail time, pain, discomfort or inconvenience. If a man’s desire for another man’s property causes him to steal, then that desire to cause loss of property is turned back on the thief who will lose his property and pay double (Ex.22:7) for the loss of property and damages to the victim. If the thief could not pay the victim with property, then he would pay by selling himself and his time into slavery. (The thief was not uselessly locked up in a cell, but was sold into forced labor.) Again, a dead thief could not be used to generate restitution, but a living thief could be sold into forced labor to pay for his forced entry.
In many ways this law and its rulings by Israel judges is more advanced and socially redemptive than many of our laws today. Yet, there are critics who want to consider the Law of Moses and the Bible outdated and barbaric.